After you read this real-time account of a credit freeze debacle, you’ll assume that this could never happen to you. But you’d be wrong. Frighteningly, it may be far more common than you, or anyone else, could believe. So take three minutes and read this story so that if….or when…it happens, you’ll save yourself hours upon hours of frantic spinning in place.
TransUnion is one of three largely unregulated credit monitoring services. Along with Experian and Equifax, this company largely serves banks, retailers and other corporations who do business with consumers. TransUnion also sells some consumer finance-related services, but their bread and butter is selling data to companies with which you do business.
One of those companies recently notified us that a credit freeze had been placed upon our TransUnion account and that we needed to remove the account in order for our application for a new bank account to be processed. Here’s the rub: we had never placed a freeze on our credit report account with TransUnion or any other credit monitoring service. How do you remove something that you never authorized in the first place.
There is justifiable reason to use a credit security freeze: when you are concerned that your personal information has been compromised (usually through a database hack). In fact, perhaps the best low-cost way of protecting yourself against a data hack is through a security credit freeze. A security freeze locks your credit files at the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) until you unlock your file with a password or PIN. The freeze stops new accounts from being established by imposters because potential creditors are not able to check your credit report or credit score, the standard procedure when financial accounts are opened. Any potential creditors’ requests for access to your credit files will be denied. However, a security freeze cannot stop misuse of your existing bank or credit accounts. You still must check the monthly statements on your current accounts for any erroneous charges or debits. Generally, you will pay no more than $30 for a lifetime of security freeze protection. In some circumstances (identity theft victims and senior citizens in some states), this protection may be free.
But here’s the problem: we hadn’t suffered from a hack and had not authorized a credit security freeze. So how to undo what we never did? We tried to “unfreeze” the account via TransUnion’s website but without having ever opened an account, we could not use the TransUnion website.
Then we called TransUnion’s “credit freeze” hotline: 888-909-8872. We explained the situation to an unsympathetic customer service representative we’ll call Ms. Sympathy. She indicated that our scenario was unlikely. Surely, we went online and placed a credit freeze. “But we have no record of an email or snail mail confirmation!” She pushed back: “We don’t do confirmations of credit freezes if you initiate it online.” Really?
“If you want to unfreeze your credit record, you must provide me with a PIN,” she insisted.
“We don’t have a PIN because we never opened an account with TransUnion and never placed a freeze on our account,” we pushed back.
“OK, well then you’ll have to answer three security questions,” she relented.
We went through a long process in which we were asked multiple choice questions about our loan history, employment and banking accounts. We answered the three questions and then were informed by Ms. Sympathy: “You didn’t answer all of the questions correctly. We can’t release your freeze.”
“But, which answer was incorrect.”
“We can’t tell you.”
“So, we failed your alleged exam (and, by the way, we did answer the questions correctly. TransUnion had bad info about us) and now we can’t unfreeze an account we never froze and therefore can’t open a bank account!”
“We want to talk to your supervisor……….”
And that was it. Ms. Sympathy had disconnect us. We were left adrift on the credit reporting ocean with no oars and no water. Things looked dire. But, being professional consumer advocates, we were not about to concede defeat. We called again and went through the SAME process with a slightly more sympathetic TransUnion staffer. Same questions. Same conclusion. Same flawed security question exam. Same failure. But this CSR agreed to pass us through to a supervisor. The supervisor listened to our account, put us on hold and 10 minutes later said something that was both exhilarating and terrifying:
“I’ve checked our records and your account seems to have been frozen in error. Someone with the same name requested a credit freeze and your account was frozen by accident. It’ll take 2-3 days for us to correct the error.”
So, here’s the thing. TransUnion made a number of critical errors, not just one.
- It failed to send a confirmation of the security freeze to the affected account holder. It turns out that our account had been frozen for over six months and we had no idea.
- It failed to empower its CSRs with the ability to identify erroneous security freezes. We ferreted out the truth only after we’d secured the attention of a supervisor.
- It failed to create a failsafe in the event that an unauthorized security freeze had been placed upon a consumers’ account. Their “security question exam” is clearly flawed and relies upon inaccurate information.
As a reader of this story, your takeaway should be that if you find yourself on the receiving end of an unauthorized credit freeze, don’t bother with a TransUnion CSR. Go right to a supervisor and don’t assume you were the source of the problem. And, if you ever do decide to place a security freeze on your credit reports, don’t EVER lose your PIN. If you do, you’ll be similarly cast adrift on a stormy credit ocean with only a flawed security question exam as your life preserver.